We are just past the halfway stage in this year’s Tour and that means many teams would be reviewing where they stand in the race vis-a-vis their goals. It would be therefore apt for us to review how the pre-race favourites have performed compared to the expectations of the media and the fans.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) was by far the favourite for this year’s race and he has not disappointed his legion of fans. He finished sixth in the Individual Time Trial (ITT), which might not have been a great performance by his standards, but still ended up gaining time over his main rivals. He was tested twice in the first week – during Stages 5 and 9 – and rose to the challenge on both occasions, showing no signs of cracking. Even losing Geraint Thomas in a crash during Stage 9 hasn’t stopped the team’s momentum. But the Brit surrendered his yellow jersey on Thursday when he lost over 20 seconds in the final 300 meters to Fabio Aru. But considering he is only 6 seconds being the leader and with an ITT yet to come, Froome remains the firm favourite, as he was on 3 July.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) has long been the king in the making with three podium finishes in the last four years. But if his goal was to finish on the top this time round (as many predicted he would), he’s far behind his goal, and falling further. So poor has been the Colombian’s form this year, that he has struggled to stay inside the top ten rankings. On the three big mountain stages raced till Thursday, Quintana has cracked on all, losing time not only to Froome, but to many other less talented riders. Neither have Nairo’s Movistar teammates contributed much to further his Tour ambitions, with Valverde crashing in Stage 1 and no one really pacing the Colombian on the tougher days. Sitting 4 minutes behind Aru, all that Quintana can hope for now, is to save face by making it to Paris inside the top ten.
Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) was the main man apart from Quintana who was billed as a potential rival to Froome. Porte has been extremely unlucky in the Tour, twice losing out in promising positions due to fate. In 2014 as leader of Team Sky (after Froome's withdrawal) he was struck down with pneumonia, and in 2016 a puncture at a crucial stage early on marred his chances. But this year, the Australian has been in ominous form, finishing 2nd in the Tour’s lead-up race, the prestigious Critérium du Dauphiné. It seemed good luck was all that Porte required and he was doing fine riding in 5th place overall till Stage 9 when he crashed. Maybe he was lucky, considering he did not suffer a career threatening injury in the horrendous crash (see the tweet below) and survived with only a fractured shoulder & pelvis. But that will be of little consolation to Porte as he watches the remainder of the Tour from a television screen.
This Getty photo of Richie Porte is incredible pic.twitter.com/gGzA9d879O
— Daniel Cherny 📰 (@DanielCherny) July 9, 2017
Alberto Contador (Trek Segafredo) is the experienced professional who has reached the pinnacle of the sport and is now playing catch up. So no one really expected Contador to seriously trouble Froome & Co. Age notwithstanding, fate has also been hard on the Spaniard, who has had a couple of nasty crashes so far. Seeing him struggle out of the top ten is painful for fans who have witnessed him in his pomp, but that is the irony of any sport. Nevertheless, he should be happy he’s still in the race after all the falls, and his low position might even provide him with the freedom to attack for a stage victory, without the top teams chasing him down.
Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) had big shoes to fill as he took over the leadership role of Astana from compatriot and 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian showed his intentions early, attacking the brutal climb of La Planche des Belles Filles on Stage 5. He wasn’t tracked down by Team Sky and went on to win the stage, but more crucially, gained 26 seconds on Froome. Later in his post-stage interview, Froome regretted giving the Italian the freedom to attack and that mistake must be haunting him all the more after Thursday. Aru attacked inside the kilometre of Stage 12 and gained a further 24 seconds on the Brit rider, also replacing him as the race leader. But Paris is still a long way away and with a few mountains – and more crucially – an ITT to come, the Italian will need each ounce of energy and his team’s support to finish in yellow on 23 July at the Champs-Élysées.
Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) is the local favourite flying the national flag for the oldest French team in the peloton. Bardet had finished second overall last year, raising French hopes for their first Tour winner since Bernard Hinault won it for the locals way back in 1985. Bardet may have started the race with an unimpressive 63rd place in the ITT, but soon jumped to 7th overall after Stage 5. He bettered that by winning Thursday's stage 12 with a gutsy final flourish, out sprinting the Stage 5 and 9 winners Rigoberto Uran and Fabio Aru. More importantly, the win came on the eve of Bastille Day, a national holiday in France, and a win on the day (or the eve) carries a big emotional significance for the locals. Bardet currently sits 3rd overall, just 25 seconds behind Aru, and has a great chance to make it a Tour to remember for the French.
Apart from the General Classification favourites, fans also had high hopes from Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan. Sadly two of the most explosive and entertaining riders on the Tour circuit did not make it past Stage 4. Ironically, their departure was linked to each other with Cavendish crashing out as a result of a clash with Sagan, who was (harshly?) found guilty for the accident by the officials and disqualified from the race. Marcel Kittel has made the best of the whittled competition and won 5 stages, out sprinting pre-race green jersey favourite Andre Greipel.
So this is just half the story, and as we mentioned in an earlier post, surprises are only a day away in the Tour de France. We just hope that there are no more crashes, of which we have seen one too many this year. So stay tuned for lots more racing, lots more action and many more twists on the back straight of this year’s race.
Updated Date: Jul 14, 2017 16:18 PM